Using Canned Meat

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2010 • all rights reserved

Canned meat goes way beyond tuna casserole! With these tips you'll be cooking great meals that no one will guess began with a can.

Canned meat goes way beyond tuna casserole!  A wide variety of meats and seafood are available in cans and pouches, and with these tips you’ll be cooking great meals that no one will guess began with a can.

I first started using canned meats on camping and canoe trips, when we didn’t have refrigeration.  And I continued to use them aboard Que Tal to supplement the limited meat supply in our tiny freezer.  We’ve gone for more than two months on several occasions without fresh meat and didn’t feel deprived (we did have access to fresh produce, though).

In addition to being easy to store, canned meat has the added advantage of being quick to prepare since it’s already cooked – translating to less time in the galley when on passage or in an interesting anchorage, and less cooking heat in the boat when it’s hot outside.

It’s not hard to prepare great meals from canned meats.  The canning process tends to take away some of the firmness and flavor of the meat, so the trick is to preserve and enhance the texture and flavor that’s there.

The biggest complaint that most people have with canned meats is that everything in the dish turns into one big blob.  But that doesn’t have to be the case!  You can have great meals with just a little care.  Through the years, I’ve learned a few tips to ensure good results:

  • Add the meat as late in the cooking process as possible.  It’s already cooked, so all you have to do is warm it up.
  • Once you’ve added the meat, stir as little as possible so it won’t turn to mush.  This is particularly true of chicken, turkey and beef and is one reason these meats shouldn’t be added until the very end of the cooking time and just warmed through.
  • Ham is the only meat that you need to “crumble” or break apart as you add it to the other ingredients.  All other meats should be handled very gently.
  • Don’t overcook other ingredients to the point where they lose their texture and become a “blob” with the meat.
  • Add one-half to one bouillon cube of an appropriate flavor to make up for the fact that you don’t have drippings from browning the meat.  Most bouillon cubes have a lot of sodium, so don’t add extra salt.
  • Drain the liquid from the can and use it in the cooking process (ditto for any canned vegetables you use).  It’ll add a lot more flavor than plain water.
  • Casserole-type dishes taking long cooking are generally inappropriate for canned meats.

I buy most meats in cans about the size of tuna cans – they’re just right for one meal for two people with average appetities.  I use ham, chicken, turkey, tuna, crab, shrimp, corned beef, roast beef, corned beef hash and probably others — I’ve found them not only in the US but also in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and on land-based camping trips in South America and Africa.  More recently, some meats are available in foil pouches, which cost a bit more but are lighter, take up less space and generally have even better texture.

My experience is that the more remote the locale, the greater variety of canned meats you’re likely to find since the local people are unlikely to have refrigeration.  Mexican fishing villages often had a wonderful assortment!

If you’re interested in more tips and recipes for canned meats,check out The Boat Galley Cookbook — it has a full chapter devoted to canned meats.

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  1. Carolyn Shearlock says:

    On The Boat Galley’s Facebook page, Mary noted that she likes canned meat from Brinkman Farms — I’ve never had it, but several cruisers have told me it’s excellent.

  2. Have you ever tried using the bodybuilder 100% whey protein drink powder for making snacks and replacing canned meat? Perhaps for emergency rations?

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      In an emergency, I guess anything would work. To make tasty meals on a daily basis where you don’t feel like you’re just making do, it’s not something I’d use. For me, canned meat makes good meals that are “real food” — protein powder would be fine nutritionally, but I don’t think you could make a satisfying meal from it.

  3. Hi Carolyn. My partner and I are about to embark on a new life living aboard a narrowboat on the canals of England UK. We are trying to identify good quality tinned meat products to purchase. Any ideas please?


    Kym Cheeseman

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      I’m not familiar with UK brands, but there are several UK residents who follow TBG on Facebook. I’ll post a note there a little later (so it will show up in UK in the morning there) and ask if anyone has recommendations as to brands.


  4. margot partridge says:

    did several meals from canned chicken on my cruise(just got back) I made sandwiches from chicken and tuna. My husband could not taste the differnce. He thought everything was tuna. The meals were tasty.

  5. I’ve been cruising for the last 12yrs and one of my favourite meals is canned chicken (heated up in its own juices) Mix 2/3rd cup Ranch or Caesar Salad dressing and 1/3rd French’s yellow mustard and 3Tbls brown sugar. Mix tog, add to chicken. Simmer about 3mins and serve on pasta. Delicious!

  6. Brenda Roberts says:

    I also use can chicken to make Chicken Salad Sandwiches. My recipe : drained can of chicken,mayonnaise to your taste, black pepper, and chopped seedless grapes (i like the dark grapes) I also like to use croissants for the sandwich bread

  7. Going to be. Passing through Marathon in a few min. A little chilly down here, but glad I’m not in the Pa. snow.

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